Do I reckon I’ve seen all there is to see in Europe? Most certainly not. Hell, I haven’t even ticked every location off the bucket list in Spain, and I’ve been living here nearly two years now.
Am I simply trying harder to escape from any home-based shenanigans? Even less likely. At the time of writing I’m on a return flight bank out to southern Spain after a quick-fire trip to Ireland for a family visit, and the old bonds are stronger than ever. Contrary to popular belief, those of us who live a mobile lifestyle do in fact feel the same emotions regarding our loved ones as other humans, and the appreciation of time spent with relatives only increases with life abroad.
Or perhaps bad experiences in my current location have me so desperate for a fresh start that I’ll haul myself to the other side of the world for one? Honestly, there’s not a snowman’s hope in Satan’s steamiest sauna of that being the reason. Since departing from Ireland in the aftermath of my university studies and spending a year apiece in the highly contrasting north and south of Spain, I’ve not only learned things I would never have learned otherwise but I’ve also formed lasting friendships, been welcomed into various communities and become part of an extremely happy and healthy relationship.
So with family ties showing no signs of ever weakening and my Spanish experience having been an overwhelmingly positive one, why is China now turning my head? As outlined in this article’s opening paragraphs, my itchy feet aren’t feeling the need to run away from anything. Quite the opposite, in fact; there are just so many things to run towards.
Such is the mind-set of some wanderlust-motivated globetrotters. No matter how much has been seen and how much remains to be seen in one part of the world, there’s always something else to see in another area. It’s not necessarily a case of the grass always being greener, it’s just that it could be a different shade of green, the likes of which just won’t be seen around here. Weighing up the pros and cons of different possible destinations is part of a decision-making process I’ve now been through on several occasions, but a year in Asia is something to which comparisons simply can’t be made. Nor could the experience be replicated or enjoyed in a small dose; it’s a case of go for it or live forever wondering.
But when it comes to as-yet-unexplored places, there are no shortage of them for a 24-year-old whose travels have almost exclusively been on European soil. ‘Why China?’ so many people have been asking, as if such a question could possibly have a simple answer. Well, in many ways it is the perfect example of a country we know so much and yet so little about. Like many others, I am aware that it is the world’s most populous nation, that they extravagantly celebrate the New Year at a different time to us Westerners and that they built a rather impressive wall there some years ago, while I also have some idea of their world domination in table tennis.
When I think beyond these points of trivia, however, I realise how little I actually know about the place. What’s it really like there, I wonder? My stomach has had queasy mornings in the aftermath of many a kung po chicken, but how close are our Western-market-adapted Chinese restaurants to what they really eat?
My stint in the south of Spain has enabled the realisation of a lifelong dream to study flamenco guitar, but I’ve never had any idea what Chinese folk music sounds like.
Their red-and-yellow flag is a common sight in the highest positions on the Olympic Medal Table every four summers, but which sports are most commonly played and followed in the world’s fourth largest nation remains a mystery to me.
As for language learning, China presents a formidable and worthwhile challenge. Among the world’s most widely used tongues, the complexity of Mandarin’s many symbols give the impression that only the artistically-talented would even be capable of writing a full sentence. One way of seeing this is that it makes moving there insurmountably difficult. Another way to see it is that the only way to learn such a complex language is to live in its homeland, even if it necessitates going through an initial phase of cluelessness.
Nor will linguistic complications be the only challenges to face. Some recent blog reading has informed me that left-handedness is strongly frowned upon in the People’s Republic, meaning plenty of my students (I will be working there as an English teacher) are likely to stare in shock and horror when they see the classroom blackboard smeared with my lefty writing. Am I really going to be able to use chopsticks – in my weaker hand, at that – without making my dinner last an eternity, clumsily clutching a grain or two of rice at a time and attempting to scramble it into my mouth before dropping it again?
Why do I want to do it then, when it’s going to cause so many difficulties and I’ve no idea what to expect? That’s precisely why I want to do it. As a long and complicated visa application process nears its conclusion, there isn’t much time left before myself and my fiancée eschew European soil for that of the Asian variety. Nervous? Absolutely. Scared? More than slightly. Would that make either of us reconsider? Never in a million years. Life being too short to stay still, flying into fear will trump settling into boredom any day. So here goes, very soon Rail and Write’s articles will start to show something of an oriental theme!